Majority leader bars reporters from the floor of the Virginia Senate

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Reporters who showed up to cover the first day of the Virginia General Assembly session were surprised to see that the press tables has been removed from the Senate chamber.

At the order of Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City County, reporters were told to sit in the balcony, rather than on the Senate floor, where journalists have worked during General Assembly sessions for decades.

Sisters named general managers at Rappahannock Record

A new generation of leadership is now in place at the Rappahannock Record in Kilmarnock. Susan Simmons and Kate Oliver have been named general managers of the weekly newspaper.

Susan and Kate are the daughters of Fred and Bettie Lee Gaskins of Urbanna, who have managed the paper since the death of longtime publisher J. Emory Currell in 1993. Mr. Currell’s daughters, Mrs. Gaskins and her sister, Clara Christopher of Williamsburg, are the owners.

Editorial: State lacks commitment to transparency

It is clear that Virginia’s state legislature has no real commitment to transparency when the vice-chairman of the Freedom of Information Act Council puts forth a bill to weaken the state’s already woeful open-government standards.

State Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Fredericksburg) has proposed a bill that would mean the salaries of state employees making less than $30,320 per year would not be made public. The bill also says that the names of any public officer, appointee or employee could be excluded from any database of public salaries.

Judge panel reworks Virginia congressional map

A three-judge panel in Richmond on Thursday imposed a new Virginia congressional map that could give blacks a chance to elect candidates of their choice in two districts, not just one.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court halts implementation, the reconfiguration will lower the black voting age population in the 3rd District, represented by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Democrat, from 56.3 percent to 45.3 percent.

It will raise the black voting age population in the 4th District, represented by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Republican, from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent.

Bill filed by FOIA Council vice chair would hide salaries, names of public workers

The vice chairman of the state FOIA Council has submitted a bill that would exempt from the public the names of people who earn their living from the public's pocketbook.

Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Fredericksburg) filed Senate Bill 202 on Tuesday. The new language sharply reduces the salary figures that can be made public. It goes a step further, excluding the names of "any public officer, appointee or employee" from any database of public salaries.

Recent trial shows cameras, courtrooms can co-exist

Judge Randy Bellows permitted a single camera to photograph the trial of accused triple murderer Charles Severance.

While nearly every courthouse in Virginia goes to great lengths to prohibit the 21st century tools journalists use to do their jobs, Fairfax County Circuit Court has taken a remarkably progressive stance, allowing cell phones and even laptops inside the courthouse.

That’s considerably further than most Virginia courthouses will allow. Most forbid cell phones and computers from the building, though in some cases attorneys and court employees may bring them in.

BH Media buys Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Thursday that its parent company, BH Media Group, has purchased the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg.

The deal also includes the Free Lance-Star's commercial printing operation, known as Print Innovators. The Free Lance-Star's previous owner, Sandton Capital Partners, acquired the paper in 2014 as the result of a court-approved bankruptcy auction. No terms were revealed.

First bill aimed at public notice law filed in General Assembly

As expected, Del. Richard Bell (R-20) has filed a bill that seeks to overturn the long-standing Virginia law requiring localities to publish public notices in newspapers.

HB 129 was filed Dec. 17. As of Dec. 21 its committee referral was still pending. Bell has filed similar legislation before, without success. In the 2015 General Assembly Bell's HB 1438 (nearly identical to his 2016 HB 129) failed to get past the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns, voted down 7-4.

Take a look at the preliminary agenda for the 2016 VPA Conference

Here's a glimpse of the agenda for the 2016 Conference in Richmond, set for April 8-9, 2016 at the Hilton in Short Pump. This is a preliminary agenda, so visit regularly for updated information.

Friday, April 8

* 10 a.m. - Registration for VPA and SPJ

* 10 a.m. - VPA Contest display room opens.

* 1-4 p.m. - Bonus Session: VCU Photo Shooting & Editing Held at VCU Campus ($30 fee, separate registration required)

* 2-5 p.m. - VPA/VPS Board Meeting

* 2-4:30 p.m. - Job Fair/Clip-Resume Critiques

Gov. McAuliffe unveils $109 billion budget

RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a two-year budget proposal Thursday that calls for expanding Medicaid, defying a Republican-dominated General Assembly that has vowed to strip that out for a third consecutive year.

The spending plan totals $109 billion, a significant boost over the current $97 billion budget. It includes $3 billion for the federal health insurance program, a $2.4 billion bond package and an additional $1 billion for K-12 and higher education. It calls for no new taxes or fees, and slightly cuts personal and corporate taxes.